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About us

The history of Vonovia

In view of the fact that Vonovia was founded in 2015, at first glance it is still a young company. But thanks to its predecessor companies, more than 100 years of history are united under one roof. Three companies form the basis of Vonovia: GAGFAH, Eisenbahnerwohngesellschaften and Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG. It was not only the frequently similar social, economic and political environment that unified the predecessor companies, but it was also the issue of "creating living space" that has been a guiding principle for all of these predecessors throughout the decades. Vonovia continues to pursue this objective as a service provider for all aspects related to the home.


Historisches Bild Vonovia

1918 to 1945: The first decades of the predecessor companies

Three lines of development constitute the foundation of Vonovia SE: The Gemeinnützige Aktien-Gesellschaft für Angestellten-Heimstätten (GAGFAH), founded in 1918, the first railway housing companies (from 1918) and the housing companies of Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG, founded in 1926. They all had two things in common:
On the one hand, their aim was to create housing for their target groups – employees, railway workers and workers. On the other hand, they were non-profit organizations: The companies adhered to certain social criteria in the provision and management of housing and received tax advantages in return. During the period of National Socialism, the focus was on the armaments economy: Support was given above all to buildings that served the political goals of the regime.
To a certain extent, Vonovia's predecessors employed foreign workers, mainly from the Netherlands. As a result of the bombings during the war in 1945, around 3.6 million houses and thus a large part of the housing stock in Germany had been destroyed.
Historisches Bild Vonovia

Historisches Bild Vonovia
Historisches Bild Vonovia

Growth, crises and reorientation from 1946 to the 1990s

The reconstruction of Germany was an enormous challenge – not just for the construction industry. Until the 1970s, Vonovia's predecessor companies grew primarily thanks to the expansion of social housing construction and new industry impulses such as condominiums and satellite towns. In the mid-1970s, the housing shortage of the post-war period was considered officially over. International problems such as the oil crises led to negative developments in the global economy – and thus also in Germany, where unemployment figures rose. The problems had an impact on the predecessor companies, which had to reorient themselves and consequently focused their business on administration and maintenance. In late 1989, an important change for Vonovia's predecessors occurred with the abolition of the non-profit status for housing companies. The housing market experienced a surge of innovation: A construction boom ensued in the new federal German states, and the predecessor companies expanded their range to include residential services.

Eltingviertel in Essen

2000 to today: The path to becoming a housing service provider

Around the turn of the millennium, international investors changed the German real estate market. Deutsche Annington and its owner Terra Firma acquired the railway housing companies in 2001 and became the largest German housing company in 2006 with the takeover of Viterra AG.
In 2004, GAGFAH passed into the ownership of the investor Fortress. Deutsche Annington and GAGFAH took over numerous housing portfolios throughout Germany. Deutsche Annington reorganized its internal structures, which, however, led to tenant complaints due to unsatisfactory services, among other things.
Following successful countermeasures, in particular with the establishment of its own craftsmen organization, the company went public in 2013. GAGFAH also struggled with negative headlines, but was also able to counteract this.
By 2014, the private equity companies Terra Firma and Fortress had withdrawn as owners. In 2015, following the merger of Deutsche Annington and GAGFAH, the company was renamed Vonovia. Today, the company regards itself as a home service provider and also operates at a global level.
Eltingviertel in Essen

Milestones in the company's history

1918 - 1933

Formation period of the predecessor companies

After the First World War, Germany was faced with a housing shortage. The predecessors GAGFAH, Eisenbahnergesellschaften and Vereinigte Stahlwerke set themselves the task of creating affordable housing. Conditions such as inflation and the economic crisis of 1929 rendered their activities increasingly difficult.

1918: Foundation of GAGFAH and the first railway housing company.

After the First World War, Germany was in need of around 800,000 homes. As a result, the state granted tax advantages for the first time if a housing company complied with certain social criteria. As a result, numerous non-profit housing companies were founded - such as GAGFAH (Gemeinnützige Aktien-Gesellschaft für Angestellten-Heimstätten). According to the articles of incorporation, the aim was "to procure healthy housing at reasonable prices for underprivileged families and individuals". As the name suggests, the focus was on employees who had not previously played a major role in the housing sector as a target group. The company, which is active throughout Germany, focused early on typified new buildings: Serial production, simplified planning, execution and maintenance in order to keep rents at an affordable level.
That same year the Wohnungsgesellschaft Ruhr-Niederrhein mbH in Essen was established. The German Railways [Reichsbahn] invested in this company in order to make it easier for their railway workers to gain access to affordable living space.

1923: The foundation of Deutschbau

In the year of hyperinflation, the housing company Deutschbau was established in Kiel. Its most important target group was members of the navy. Deutschbau was successively acquired by Viterra AG from 1997 to 2004.

1925: Foundation of the Gemeinnützige Eisenbahnwohnungsbaugesellschaft mbH in Cologne

In 1925, the German Reichsbahn founded its first own housing company for railway workers. Others followed in Berlin and Hamburg, and by 1954 there were a total of 18 companies.

1926: Foundation of Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG

In 1926, a number of mining companies, including Thyssen and Phoenix, merged to form Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG. They contributed around 60,000 company dwellings to the group.


1933 - 1945

The years of National Socialism

Reorganization, name change, adaptation to the requirements of the regime, little growth up to the discontinuation of construction: The period of National Socialism and the Second World War presented Vonovia's predecessors with great challenges.

1933: Establishment of four housing companies to manage the real estate of Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG

On July 1, 1933, Vereinigte Stahlwerke transferred its housing stock to the four regional housing companies Rheinisch-Westfälische Werkswohnungs-AG, Essen, Westfälische Werkswohnungs-AG, Dortmund, Rheinische Werkswohnungs-AG Duisburg and Westdeutsche Wohnhäuser AG, Düsseldorf.
The aim was to improve the management of the properties and to make a lasting contribution to satisfying housing needs. With the exception of Westdeutsche Wohnhäuser AG, the companies were recognized as charitable organizations. They were therefore only permitted to have very limited involvement with the construction industry, not to act as building contractors for third parties, and the return on capital contributions was limited to four percent. In return, the companies received tax relief.

1940: The years of the War

In the construction sector, the National Socialists mainly propagated small settlements for workers, but actually construction also took place in cities. The predecessor companies of Vonovia were partially occupied by National Socialists.
Jewish committee members had to leave the companies as well as politically undesirable ones. This was particularly the case for GAGFAH.
After German construction activity became subordinate to the aims of the war economy, GAGFAH took over settlement construction contracts for the SS, and after 1940, foreign workers from the Netherlands, Denmark and Italy were employed in the Wohnstätten AGs.


1946 - 1960

Reconstruction in the truest sense of the word

After the collapse and capitulation of Germany in 1945, the housing market suffered greatly. Initially imposed by the Allies, the controlled economy was followed by a renewed state framework for housing construction in East and West Germany. Urban landscapes changed and the housing industry increasingly favored a retreat into the private sphere.

1946: The controlled economy in the housing sector

In 1946, the Allies introduced controlled housing management: Housing was assigned, there was no free market any more. Rents remained at 1936 levels and were frozen at that level. In the later GDR, these prices remained in place until 1990.
Immediately after the war, camps and emergency shelters had become new homes for many people.

1950/51: Start of the reconstruction and start of a new housing policy

The first Housing Act of 1950 and the Home Ownership Act of 1951 were part of a new housing policy that replaced the controlled economy introduced in 1946. The laws laid the foundations for social housing construction in West Germany and for the construction of condominiums. Vonovia's predecessor companies were primarily active in non-profit housing construction, whereas GAGFAH was also increasingly involved in the construction of owner-occupied homes. The typical architectural style of the time was houses or rows of houses with three to four floors, with lots of green and usable space in between.

1953: A new course has been set for GAGFAH and Wohnstätten AGs

The newly founded Federal Insurance Institution for Salaried Employees became the new majority shareholder of GAGFAH, thus providing a reliable basis for planning for the future. Wohnstätten AGs also received new owners following the dissolution of Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG. The thirteen companies that had originally formed Vereinigte Stahlwerke were now the new shareholders. Due to the common interests – the employees' loyalty to the companies – they were also interested in continuity in the housing industry.

1960: Enormous construction output

While around six million dwellings were still missing in West Germany in 1950, around five million new dwellings were completed in 1960 – 40 to 50 percent of them by non-profit housing associations. The sector – and thus also Vonovia's predecessor companies – contributed significantly to the economic miracle.


1961 - 1973

New ideas emerged from housing shortage

Despite an enormous amount of construction work – in which Vonovia's predecessors also played a part – the housing shortage remained one of the central problems in the Federal Republic. New housing concepts emerged during the second decade of the economic miracle: Satellite towns in East and West as well as high-rise housing estates on the outskirts of cities represented the spirit of modern living.

1961: The predecessors responded to a changed environment

The structural change of the Ruhr area from the 1960s onwards also had consequences for housing companies. There were fewer and fewer industrial workers, which resulted in lower demand for company housing and thus fewer new buildings. Instead, the companies supplemented their activities with portfolio management and contributions in the field of urban development and municipal housing construction.

1966: The emergence of satellite towns and prefabricated buildings

The satellite towns planned from the mid-1960s on the outskirts of cities in the West and East, which also included prefabricated buildings, became the epitome of modern living. They were intended to offer the inhabitants everything they needed to survive: Shops, clubs, schools, kindergartens, leisure facilities. Today many of these neighborhoods are part of Vonovia.

1970: Owner-occupied housing as a mainstay of GAGFAH

Since the early 1950s, GAGFAH has been one of the forerunners in the field of private housing. By 1960, 3,000 homes had already been sold; and by 1970, this number had risen to 11,000, making it an important pillar of GAGFAH's business.

1973: Germany and the housing sector in transition

Germany had undergone changes since the beginning of the new decade. As a mature industrial nation, the West stood on the threshold of a service society. Full employment prevailed and the housing shortage was officially a thing of the past in 1973/74. 1973 was a record year for the industry: 714,000 completed dwellings were recorded. However, international crises, in particular the oil crisis, also put a strain on the German economy. New construction was practically only built on request.


1974 - 1989

From boom to turnaround

With the end of the housing shortage in 1973/74, the strategies of Vonovia's predecessors changed following the construction boom. Preservation and modernization were the main priorities. In addition, some of Vonovia's predecessors underwent organizational changes. It was only with the abolition of the non-profit status for housing companies in 1989/90 that a further far-reaching change took place that impacted the entire sector.

1974: Opening of the head office for Wohnstätten-AGs in Bochum

Structural change since the 1960s has gradually led to a change in the shareholder structure of Wohnstätten AGs.
Gelsenberg AG became the new main shareholder. In November 1974, the joint head office for Wohnstätten AGs was opened at Philippstrasse 3 in Bochum.

1979: The formation of Veba Wohnstätten AG

The housing companies founded in 1933 and the remaining shares in Westdeutsche Wohnhäuser AG were merged into VEBA Wohnstätten AG. VEBA AG had taken over the majority of the shares from Gelsenberg AG in 1976.

1982: A brief upswing despite the trend

Due to the changed market situation – less demand, extensive elimination of the housing shortage – all predecessors of Vonovia had begun to focus on portfolio management. Modernization and new construction receded into the background. There was a brief exception to this situation at VEBA in the early 1980s: As coal mining had boomed in the meantime, new buildings were being built for the workers.

1989: Abolition of non-profit status for housing enterprises

In the early 1980s, a scandal shook the foundations of the housing industry: The managers of the housing company "Neue Heimat" were accused of enriching themselves at the expense of their tenants. In addition to these negative headlines, politicians had the impression that the primary goals of non-profit housing construction had been reached. This led to a decisive change for the housing sector: At the end of 1989, the non-profit status for housing construction companies was abolished. Tax privileges were abolished, but new entrepreneurial opportunities opened up for Vonovia's predecessors.


1991 - 2000

Dynamization of the market

After the non-profit status for housing companies was abolished at the turn of the year 1989/1990, the market started to move. The predecessors of Vonovia responded to this development with expanded services. Mergers changed the market and created the first housing companies of supra-regional importance.

1991: The foundation of GAGFAH BIV

In the 1990s, GAGFAH continued to focus on its core task of creating housing on the basis of certain social criteria.
It also set up the GAGFAH BIV (Bauträger- und Immobilienverwaltungsgesellschaft - property development and management company), with a primary focus on the new federal states. This company helped numerous municipalities to manage, renovate and sometimes privatize the housing portfolio taken over from the state-owned enterprises (VEB).

1993: The foundation of VEBA Immobilien AG

VEBA WOHNEN gradually realigned itself with the abolition of non-profit status at the end of 1989. In addition to the traditional housing business, the portfolio soon included real estate services, property development, electronic data processing and a number of other fields of activity. In 1993, the group underwent restructuring in order to increase its own innovative strength with a leaner organization.

1994: Privatization of the railways

With the transformation of the Federal Railways into a public limited company in 1994, the railway housing companies became subsidiaries of the Federal Railway Assets operating on the free housing market.

1997: Damage to the image of VEBA Immobilien

In 1997, managers of VEBA Immobilien were accused of having used the services of external companies for private purposes and of having hidden the costs for these services in the tenants' ancillary rental statements. An independent arbitration board investigated the allegations. In particular, the maintenance costs were identified as a potential source of manipulation. Systematic fraud, however, was ruled out by the arbitration board. It completed its work in 2001.

1998: Merger of Raab Karcher AG with VEBA Immobilien AG

In 1998, VEBA Immobilien AG merged with Raab Karcher, a service provider in the fields of building materials, heating and building technology. Both companies had already belonged to VEBA AG and were been merged.
The new company had a real estate portfolio of 138,000 properties throughout Germany. The primary strategic goal was the purchase and profitable sale of a residential property.


2001 - 2010

Private equity dominates the sector

The privatization of the Federal Railway assets paved the way for international investors into the German housing market. In the years to follow, a rapid cleansing of the market prompted the emergence of fewer large housing companies. The profitable sale of homes was often the strategic focus of Vonovia's predecessors.

2001: Deutsche Annington takes over the federal government's railway assets

In 2001, Deutsche Annington acquired ten of the 18 housing associations of the federal government's railway assets amounting to approximately 65,000 dwellings. The owner of Deutsche Annington was the investor Terra Firma.

2004: Takeover of GAGFAH by financial investor Fortress

The acquisition of GAGFAH by Investor Fortress in 2004 was made possible primarily because the previous owner, the Federal Insurance Institution for Salaried Employees, was obliged to dispose of non-essential assets due to a change in the legal situation.
Similar to Deutsche Annington, this was marked the beginning of a phase of change, acquisitions and mergers that was to last several years.

2005: Takeover of Viterra AG by Deutsche Annington

As a result of the takeover of Viterra AG by Deutsche Annington in 2005, the German housing company with 230,000 dwellings was born. In order to keep up with speed of growth, Deutsche Annington restructured itself a year later. Seven regional companies each operated locally, supported by centralized key functions such as accounting or purchasing.

2006: Fortress takes over WOBA Dresden and integrates it into GAGFAH

In 2006, Fortress acquired another major housing provider: WOBA Dresden, which is owned by the city. 40,000 properties were integrated into the GAGFAH portfolio. The sale made Dresden the very first debt-free city in Germany.

2009: Digitization of tenant management and centralization of tenant services at Deutsche Annington

In 2009, Deutsche Annington made plans to make the entire company more efficient. Since 2008, internal processes, especially in tenant support, had been analyzed.
One of the results was to digitize around 50 million sheets of paper within a few months and make them available to a central tenant service. Employees were given modern means of communication to support them and received training to prepare them for their new tasks.


2011 - 2018

Vonovia is born

At the beginning of the 2010s, satisfaction among many tenants had plummeted. Vonovia's predecessors responded by adapting their strategies and improving their contact with their customers. Private equity firms increasingly withdrew. This development, together with takeovers and mergers, led to the creation of Vonovia.

2011: Foundation of Deutscher Technischer Gebäudeservice, the German Annington's own craftsmen's organization.

The digitization campaign of 2009 was only partially successful: Too much outsourcing, too great a distance to the customer, tenants' dissatisfaction, renovation backlogs and information losses were just some of the consequences. The company took countermeasures and in 2011 founded its own craftsmen's organization, Deutscher Technischer Gebäudeservice (today: Vonovia Technical Service). By 2013 alone, some 1,000 new employees had been hired to improve local customer service.
That same year, Deutsche Annington entered into a partnership with Deutsche Telekom to equip around 171,000 properties with an expanded TV offering and a connection to the fiber-optic network.

2013: Deutsche Annington goes public, admission to S-Dax and withdrawal of investor Terra Firma

As a result of the global financial and economic crisis, Deutsche Annington had to implement debt consolidation measures. At the same time, these measures prepared Deutsche Annington for their long-planned IPO. In July 2013, the company went public and was listed on the S-Dax that same year. However, the main owner Terra Firma did not feel its expectations were fully met and announced its withdrawal from the company in 2014.

2014: Turnaround year for GAGFAH and Deutsche Annington

2014marked a year of significant change for GAGFAH and Deutsche Annington: The respective main owners, Fortress and Terra Firma, withdrew from their shares. This gave both housing companies more entrepreneurial freedom.
Deutsche Annington was admitted to the M-Dax in the same year.

2015: Merger of Deutsche Annington with GAGFAH

"With this merger, we want to become the leading company on the German housing market with a European scale and based in North Rhine-Westphalia, which is more profitable and more competitive." Rolf Buch, then CEO of Deutsche Annington, describing the goal of merging Deutsche Annington and GAGFAH into a single housing company.
That same year, the largest European housing group was renamed Vonovia and included in the Dax 30.

2017/18: First steps on international markets and opening of new Vonovia corporate headquarters in Bochum

In 2017, Vonovia acquired the Austrian conwert with 24,500 dwellings and in the following year, the Austrian Buwog with 49,000 dwellings.
Vonovia's new corporate headquarters were officially opened in the summer of 2018.


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